What Are the Treatments for Adults with Mental Retardation?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett
Individuals with mental retardation may possess distinguishable facial features.
Individuals with mental retardation may possess distinguishable facial features.

Adults with mental retardation are typically treated with sustained assistance and training appropriate to the level of retardation experienced. For adults who have additional health problems, other treatments may be required. The therapies applied specifically to the intellectual aspects of this disability primarily revolve around helping the individual have a happy and independent life and therefore are better thought of as types of management rather than treatments. In this sense, the primary treatment consists of education and learning programs.

Many adults who suffer from only mild mental retardation require no treatment at all. Adults with mental retardation that impairs function to a degree that requires institutionalization may not be capable of being treated, although they can be cared for in ways that promote comfort and happiness. Some people who suffer from this disability lie somewhere in between these two extremes and can receive help by living in group homes until independence is possible or for the duration of their lives.

All adults with mental retardation have had mental retardation since childhood, because this disability is considered different than intellectual disabilities relating to head injuries and other accidents. Typically, then, adults with mental retardation have already had a long time to prepare for life as an adult with an intellectual impairment. Many people who have this type of disability are already well established as productive members of society and may require only periodic maintenance to ensure safety and the support of family and friends. For those who have not yet learned how to live independently or feel unsatisfied with their skill set, additional education can be an effective treatment.

Some adults with mental retardation have additional symptoms as well. People who have a mental disability and also suffer from health problems may be capable of accomplishing daily tasks, but may not always be capable of applying complex medical procedures. In these cases, care must be provided either at home or in a facility. Although this may result in reduced independence, most people believe that health and length of life are more important than living independently.

While the treatments above are the most common, there may someday be other treatments that prove effective in terms of improving quality of life or even reducing the level of retardation experienced. Typically, this disability is seen as untreatable except through education. Historical treatments that involved painful application of electricity or even lobotomy to reduce violence among people with mental disabilities have largely fallen out of fashion because they are cruel and ineffective, but these are still used in some areas.

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Discussion Comments


I'm not sure "treatments" is the right word. I'd focus more on therapies, and these can be physical or occupational. Many adults with only mild retardation still need help with life skills and daily activities persons with average intelligence take for granted. These are the skills that will help the person find an appropriate job, get along well in a group home setting, and, if the person lives independently, will help him or her remain independent for a much longer time.


Frequently, the more severe the degree of retardation, the more health problems a person tends to have. I'm not sure why this is the case, but in my years of working with this population, it seems to be a constant.

If the person has a caregiver, then that individual needs to make certain the person has access to regular medical care, and by a doctor he or she likes. A doctor who is sympathetic to this population is vital. Otherwise, the person may flatly refuse to go to the doctor, no matter how sick he or she may be.

Someone with a milder degree of retardation will probably still need help keeping up with finances and so forth, and whoever helps this person should also help find a good, sympathetic doctor for the same reasons.

Group home caregivers need training in spotting incipient medical problems before they become emergencies. This will help doctors treat their patients more effectively.

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    • Individuals with mental retardation may possess distinguishable facial features.
      By: muro
      Individuals with mental retardation may possess distinguishable facial features.